The Idaho Public Charter School Commission voted Wednesday to conditionally renew an eastern Idaho based charter school after the school didn’t pay about eight years worth of federal income taxes and failed to meet all academic performance measures.
Commission members voted 4-1 to renew the performance certificate for Ammon-based Monticello Montessori Charter School with seven different financial and academic conditions the school must meet over the next five years.
If the school fails to meet any of the conditions, the Idaho Public Charter School Commission could vote to revoke Monticello Montessori Charter school’s charter and begin the process of closing the school — although the commission is not required to do so. The commissioners could instead work with the school’s staff and board on a turnaround plan to get in compliance with the conditions.
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Commissioners who voted to renew the school expressed confidence that Monticello Montessori is on a better path under the leadership of an experienced principal and business manager who each came out of retirement from neighboring public school districts to help the school navigate its financial and academic challenges.
Meanwhile, the Idaho Public Charter School Commission is experiencing significant turnover with the resignations of director Jenn Thompson and the resignation of commission member Brian Scigliano. Additionally, the Idaho Legislature’s Senate Education Committee has recommended the Idaho Senate reject the appointment of commissioner Karen Echeverria, whose appointment is pending before the Idaho Senate.
The Idaho Public Charter School Commission is a seven-member board whose members are appointed by Idaho’s governor or legislative leaders.
Why is Monticello Montessori Charter School being reviewed now?
Charter schools are classified as public schools in Idaho and are reviewed every five years by the Idaho Public Charter School Commission. Monticello Montessori Charter School’s performance certificate is scheduled to expire on June 30, state records show. On Feb. 24, the Idaho Public Charter School Commission voted to reject a five-year renewal agreement for Monticello Montessori Charter School, which set up Thursday’s renewal hearing. During the February meeting, commissioners were concerned about the potential financial penalties from the IRS, the school failing to meet any of its academic performance measures and the fact that none of Monticello Montessori Charter School’s board members participated in the Feb. 24 meeting when the school’s renewal agreement and financial and academic concerns were first discussed.
The Idaho Public Charter School Commission serves as an authorizer of new charter schools and oversees 63 existing charter schools. Since moving to the five-year renewal cycle in 2014, the commission has renewed every charter school but one.
Monticello Montessori opened in 2010 in Ammon and serves about 150 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
New Monticello Montessori Charter School business manager Carrie Smith discovered that previous bookkeepers or business managers failed to pay payroll taxes from 2014 to 2022. Smith discovered the issue when she went to file 2022 second quarter tax payments and she could not find the previous quarter’s filing. Smith then alerted the school’s principal, the school board and began speaking and writing with IRS employees about the issue.
Smith said Wednesday the school has paid back more than $117,000 in taxes and interest and requested the IRS not assess additional financial penalties to the school. School officials estimated Monticello Montessori could face $53,000 in penalties if the IRS does not waive them. Monticello Montessori staff said they sold modular classrooms to the Bonneville Joint School District to have the cash to pay the back taxes and any penalties that could be assessed.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Idaho Public Charter School Commission members Nils Peterson and Dean Fisher raised questions about why the payroll tax issues weren’t flagged prominently in the school’s annual audits. Monticello Montessori Charter School board chairman David Meyer told commissioners Wednesday that the school’s 2021 audit referenced past due payroll taxes but he did not see the issue raised in the 2022 audit and believed the issue had been addressed. State records show that Kurt Folke of Quest CPAs in Payette is the auditor for the school.
Echeverria, whose appointment is pending before the Idaho Senate, cast the vote against renewing Monticello Montessori School. Echeverria said when Gov. Brad Little appointed her to the charter commission, he wanted a charter school supporter and someone who would help push for high academic performance and financial responsibility.
Echeverria said the school failed to meet the goals for high academic performance and financial responsibility.
“(Little) wanted schools that were performing high academically; this school has not done that in a five-year time frame,” Echeverria said during Wednesday’s meeting.
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“We’ve just been told that (Monticello Montessori Charter School has) spent $12,000 to pay interest on taxes that they did not pay on time and there could be another $55,000 in penalties and that, to me, is not being fiscally conservative,” Echeverria added.
On the other hand, Idaho Public Charter School Commission Chairman Alan Reed and commissioner Fisher expressed confidence in the school’s new staff, which includes an experienced principal and business manager (in Smith) who each came out of retirement from neighboring public school districts to step in to help the school navigate its financial and academic challenges.
Reed said he agreed with Echeverria’s concerns but believed the school is on a better path and did not want to disrupt the students’ lives by closing the school.
“In my mind, I am thinking we have got to figure out how we better track schools so that doesn’t happen, and I also I hate to penalize 150 children for a mistake that was made quite a few years ago with a different group,” Reed said during the meeting.
Idaho Public Charter School Commission accepts director’s resignation
After the Idaho Public Charter School Commission voted to renew Monticello Montessori Charter School, commissioners went into a closed-door executive session and then returned to open session to announce they have received Thompson’s letter of resignation.
Commissioners voted to accept Thompson’s resignation immediately and appoint program manager Melissa-Jo Rivera as the commission’s interim director while conducting a search for a permanent director.
After Wednesday’s meeting, Thompson told the Idaho Capital Sun she is no longer a spokesperson for the commission and referred questions to her letter of resignation, which the Sun requested late Wednesday afternoon. Thompson joined the Idaho Public Charter School Commission staff in 2017, according to her biography on the commission’s website.